Rural Arts, Design, and Innovation in America cover
Rural Arts, Design, and Innovation in America

Author: National Endowment for the Arts

Publication Year: 2017

Media Type: Report


This report stemmed from a research collaboration with the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It analyzes data from the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey to quantify relationships among arts organizations, design-integrated firms, and business innovators in rural settings


Economic impact studies of the arts have proliferated to such an extent that it’s easy to overlook rural dynamics affecting this research. The studies may be intensely local or regional, but only in rare cases do they question prevailing assumptions about the components and drivers of economic value linked to art. Yet it would seem obvious that the types of jobs and industries representing “creative capital” should vary by cultural milieu, and that urban and rural traditions would differently shape this relationship.

Part of the reason for discounting rural dimensions of the creative economy has to do with what we might call the expediency of standardization. Persuasive theories about the arts and economic impact (e.g., the notion of a “creative class,” of agglomeration economies, or of economic multipliers) have had downstream effects on the models and metrics that many analysts use to explain the monetary value of arts organizations. This is only natural: Standard lexicons are good for messaging, but great for research.

In aggregate, these theories, models, and metrics have fostered a distinguished body of economic research, but mainly in urban settings, where such constructs were devised and tested in the first place. This too makes sense. Frequently, the data infrastructure for rural arts research projects has proved inadequate for elementary fact-finding, not to mention for generalizing about rural creative economies as a whole.

Into this climate, the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey (REIS) bursts as an unprecedented resource. This nationally representative survey, fielded in 2014 by the Economic Research Service (ERS) unit at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), asks rural businesses about the nature and extent of innovative processes within their operations. The survey permits analysis of arts organizations—in rural and also urban contexts—and it enables rural/urban comparisons of businesses that do or do not rely on design services and on innovative processes.

Combined with County Business Patterns (CBP) data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the REIS gives researchers an opportunity to a) compare rural with urban arts organizations in terms of location and distribution, use of innovative practices, and customer service; b) investigate the proximity of rural arts organizations to design-oriented and/or innovative businesses, using the performing arts as a proxy; and c) explore economic outcomes associated with design-integrated businesses.

Arts & Intersections: Innovation

Categories: Technology and Innovation


Series Title:




Pages: 18

Resources: Document


Name: National Edowment for the Arts

Website URL: